Five Tips for Shooting Better Football Photos

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Everybody in America seems to be in love with football—the American version—with its bone-splittingly violent hits, precision offensive and defensive schemes, and nail-biting drama. As a photographer, the trick is knowing how to bring home the dynamic images that tell the story, excite your clients and readers, and provide you with the satisfaction that comes with capturing the big plays in an arresting manner.

Here are five quick tips on how to do just that.

Editor's Note: This is a guest blogpost from Sports Photographer Damian Strohmayer.



Tip 1:  Watch Your Backgrounds

The most common mistake amateur photographers make is to choose backgrounds that distract from the action on the field. Avoid chain link fences, parked cars, empty stands, and other distracting items that will draw the viewer's eye to the background instead of to the action in the foreground. Good backgrounds are neutral, or objects that can easily be thrown out of focus, like full stadium crowds or a grove of trees. Positioning yourself in the correct position will result in cleaner photos, which communicate to the viewer easily.

Tip 2:  Know Who is in the Game, and How They Play the Game

If you are photographing a team that is dominant offensively, position yourself ahead of the ball. If a team has a dominant defense, position yourself behind the line of scrimmage. Have a receiver who runs a lot of short pass patterns? Position yourself behind the line of scrimmage, because he will turn back to make his catches. Conversely, if there is a burning fast receiver who routinely gets down field for long pass catches, be ahead of him on offense.

Tip 3: Know What You are Trying to Communicate in Your Photos

If your editor or client is featuring the defense, position yourself behind the line of scrimmage, because that is going to yield more photos of the defense. Understand that the game may change, so you should be in communication with your editor or client, since their needs may change as the game goes along. You have to adapt your photography to the changes in the game, if the viewpoint changes.

For example, if the editorial stand going in to the game is about the star running back, and he breaks his leg on the first carry, chances are the story is going to change. If you can be in contact with whomever you are working with, you can adapt after conferring with them. If not, you will need to be flexible and try to figure out on your own what is most telling about the game. Remember that if you are paying attention to the game, all these ideas should be self-evident. If you want to make the best and most pertinent photos, you have to immerse yourself in the game.

Tip 4: Old Football Photography Adage

"Ten yards ahead of a good team, ten yards behind a bad one."

Using our super telephoto lens in today's world, that statement may be more like 'fifty yards' ahead or behind, but it remains a staple of my thought process about how to cover a football game. Along these same lines, always be ready for a big play on punt and kickoff returns. Hustle ahead, and be ready for a big play to unfold in these situations. Don’t be lazy; just get ahead of the return team!

Tip 5: Football Photography is All About the Faces

I always kneel and try to get as low as I can, in order to position the players in such a manner that I can see into their helmets. Emotion, intensity, fatigue and effort all manifest themselves in the faces. It takes a tremendous photo to stand as a great photo, if it doesn't have any faces. I look at portfolios all the time which would have been improved significantly by just photographing from a lower angle. Shots with a clean look at the player’s face—in peak action—are really going to communicate with those viewing your photos.

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Damian Strohmeyer, a veteran sports photographer, has worked at Sports Illustrated for over twenty years. He has photographed more than sixty covers for SI, and has won numerous awards for his sports photography. See more of his work at his website and read his blog.